Saturday, October 3, 2009

Christianity and Yoga

So in my last post, I used a picture from a site called Inspired Woman Magazine. I went back to read the article that the picture was associated with and found an article entitled Christian Fitness: Should it Include Yoga?

Now, here is my disclaimer and my confession: I generally do not like Christians. There are a few that I have met that have been wonderful and I enjoy being around but invariably, I feel, there is a judgment thing going on with Christians. And I think that's part and parcel of the religion. Some Christians will say that God is the judge (when it comes to what happens to non-Christians after death) but then will also point to the "infallible" Word of God in terms of what happens if one refuses to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. So, in other words, they *know* how God feels about things. The Christians I've liked and gotten along with so far will admit that they don't totally know the mind of God. They will acknowledge that there may be other spiritual paths just as valid as theirs.

And speaking as someone who grew up in a heavily Christian household, I know that I am biased against Christians and Christianity. I remember vividly being told when I was about 12 or 13 that yoga was basically evil. I wanted to ask questions but was silenced. It seemed as if anything that folks were ignorant about or that was different was called evil. Including (and maybe especially) our own indigenous religions.

But I digress . . .

Should Christians practice yoga? I guess that's something a Christian would have to seek God's face about. Yoga as it's presented in the West is a watered down version. It is indeed a whole philosophy and spirituality. Does that philosophy and spirituality stand at odds with Christianity? It depends on your brand of Christianity. But in my eyes, you can have a philosophy and a religion and the two might not be at odds. For example, you can have a philosophy of veganism and be Christian. You could ascribe to the philosophy of yoga and still be Christian. If you ate a vegan meal, I don't think that would cancel out or go against your faith? If you practiced yoga, I don't think that would go against your faith.

What is yoga anyway? I like this explanation the best. But yoga has also been described or defined as "union". I read somewhere that it is basically aligning yourself with God, the universe, etc. What I haven't read anywhere is that each pose is "in praise" of a different Hindu deity.

But isn't being a Christian simple? Isn't it to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, God Himself made manifest in the flesh, who came to die and whose blood is redemption and who by resurrecting on the third day conquered death and is now seated at the right hand of God? Isn't the work of a Christian to follow in Christ's path? It seems to me that yoga could be a legitimate way to work at your Christ-like-ness (for Christ exemplifies all the Yamas and Niyamas) and would not challenge your faith. To me, honestly, all these other add ons and rules that organized religions add on are just superfluous. Let's get to the root. Too many organized religions make it seem like there are 500,000 distractions (sent by the devil, of course) to get you off the narrow road. But according to the Bible, it's so simple to stay on the narrow road that a child could do it.

It's interesting how folks describe yoga as "new age". It's kind of like how "going green" is the "new black". I usually don't verbalize my thoughts on these things but it seems that all too often things originated by people of color are co-opted by White folks and given this new sheen, like it's the cool thing to do. As if there haven't been folks doing it forever and ever and ever. But what's more insulting is how so many times, there's not even a clear understanding of these practices and ways of being. It's not genuine. But be that as it may, it's what we often have here in the West. Many, many Westerners divorce the spiritual from the physical when it comes to yoga . . . so no, I don't see the problem with Christians practicing the physical aspects of yoga at all.

Well, I don't know if Christians should practice the spirituality of yoga (although it's been argued many times that there really is no separation) but I do know that if a Christian is interested, they should look to the root to get a real understanding of what yoga is just like they should look to the root to understand Christianity. They shouldn't rely on what someone tells them or what an article says. They should study. Be open-minded. Learn about it. And then see if it jibes with their own faith.

I ran across this blog which had some interesting insight.

10 comments:

navelgazingbajan said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I find that people who say that yoga is evil generally don't really know the first thing about it. I'm not sure how a philosophy which espouses ahimsa or "nonviolence/non-harming" as the chief ethical rule can be evil. I knew christians who practiced yoga and even meditated. They might have chosen to say prayers or amen instead of "om" but they found their own path with yoga. Honestly, the practice is what you make it. It can be purely a physical exercise, a philosophical journey, scholarship, a show of devotion through music or some combination. I just know that when I was actively practicing yoga I felt more at ease with life. I felt like there was a greater force in the universe and I felt more connected to humanity. One of the best feelings in the world was sitting in a room full of people saying "Om" in harmony by accident. It was a seriously positive vibe.

blackgirlinmaine said...

Well I am a Christian and earlier this year, I took uo yoga. For years I had been scared about it for many of the reasons you touched upon. However as someone who suffers from anxiety attacks, I needed to find a way to deal with my anxiety and yoga provided that outlet.

I really enjoyed it as well as the yoga nidra (meditation) class that I took. I actually felt it strengthen my faith because when in deep meditation, I was really able to focus and meditate in a way that I had never done before.

Sadly I know there are many who would question a Christian taking up yoga but I don't see a contradiction.

Yogadawg said...

Oh man, I would suggest that you send them to my site but I'm afraid that they lack a sense of humor also. Good post

YogaforCynics said...

Actually, many liberal Christians (they don't get much press, but there are millions of them) would say that being a Christian is even simpler than what you describe, which is essentially a conservative/literalist/fundamentalist Christian. To a non-conservative/literalist/fundamentalist, being a Christian means living by the teachings of Jesus, and seeing him as a model human being, child of God only in the sense that everbody is. For that kind of Christian, there's no contradiction with yoga at all, except perhaps with those who take yogic and Hindu teachings literally. Personally, I'm a hardcore agnostic yogi, heavily influenced by my Quaker (very very liberal Christian) upbringing, finding value in various traditions but not following any of them blindly, or letting anybody tell me I can't do something because somebody's idea of God is against it...

David Murdoch said...

The physical part of Yoga (so long as it doesn't involve something sexual) is compatible with christianity, but the spiritual component isn't. I read an article not too long ago that claimed Muslim Clerics in Malaysia had declared it haram.

With regard to the point about 'christians judging', the cahtolic church teaches that people who die without baptism can be saved if they would have desired it had they known its necessity. I also feel like people who criticze christianity by calling it judgmental, sometimes act hypocritically by being judgmental in performing that judgment.

I wrote a christian fiction novel that briefly at one part sharply criticized some of the eastern spiritual practices, and I have no regrets about it. It makes no difference to me if people think this is ignorant or short-sighted, because I know that it isn't. I don't judge people who belong to those traditions, but I merely believe that what they believe is evil, even if they are not evil themselves.

The criticism directed against christians with such a viewpoint is essentially hollow and when it comes to actually judging christians for holding such views, it itself becomes a form of bigotry.

God Bless,

femmeautonome said...

@chi-chi,

I've been lurking on your blog since I discovered it a couple of weeks ago and find it very interesting. We come from similar backgrounds so I can relate to some of what you write.

@blackgirlinmaine,

I, too, started yoga to deal with stress and anxiety. I still remember being shocked at the feeling of "lack of tension" after my first class. My mom promptly told me it was evil, but I kept going. :-)

@David Murdoch:
First, you say that people who criticize Christianity are being judgmental. This is true - by definition, criticism is a judgment. I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus' words. And I don't think it is a stretch to say that Christians are judgmental, no matter the denomination. Christians are people. People are judgmental. If it was not a problem, then Christian churches would not preach against this time and time again. It is part of being human and we all do it.

I think also that too many cultures/religions hide behind this "don't judge us" wall. Personally, I believe it's time to stop this.

I noted that you admit to criticizing cultures/beliefs that you find evil and have no regrets. Yet, you chastise the author of this blog and say that judging Christians for their views is a form of bigotry. Bigotry is defined as "stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own."

Do you admit yourself to be a bigot for your criticism of eastern spiritual practices?

David Murdoch said...

femmeautomne,

I don't chastise the author of the blog, nor did I say that I think that criticism of christianity is a form of bigotry. Rather I said that judging christians for their beliefs is a form of bigotry.

I don't have a problem with people who criticize what christians believe, but when it comes to actually looking down on christians and judging them for holding their views, there is a difference. I don't judge people who belong to eastern traditions, but I respect them and treat them with charity, even though I criticize what they believe. Bigotry to me would be if I decided that they were immoral because of their views, which is not what I do, and it is what people who judge christians for their beliefs are doing.

It is a false moral cloak that is spread over something that is otherwise rotten. They can judge christianity as a religion all they like, but if they start judging the people simply for their beliefs, then there is a problem.

God Bless,

femmeautonome said...

@David,

As I wrote before, criticism and judgment by definition are the same. When you criticize, you judge. When you judge, you criticize.

Bigotry is intolerance and refusal to accept another viewpoint. You can redefine it for yourself, but it is what it is. I would like to see a dictionary where bigotry is defined as deciding someone is immoral for a belief.

I would have to go back and reread the post, but don't remember the author saying Christians are immoral. Even if she did, realize that people judging Christians is not equivalent to those same people saying Christians are immoral. You don't know what people are thinking.

Personally, I find your ability to respect people who believe what you call "evil" practices and beliefs to be curious and incredible. Your version of "hate the sin but not the sinner", I guess. To use an extreme example of something I find to be an odious practice - pedophilia - I cannot imagine myself saying I "respect" a person who believe there is nothing wrong with this. I believe this is immoral and I don't mind being called a bigot against pedophiles. Does this mean I "hate" the pedophile? Maybe. I would be lying if I said I was like Jesus and didn't dislike/hate or judge anyone. That would make quite holy, wouldn't it? And I sure wouldn't need a messiah if I could accomplish this sort of mind set.

I feel people go out of their way to bend over backwards and say "oh I'm not judging YOU - just what you believe." If you want to judge - then judge and stand by it. You're entitled to your opinion and beliefs. Others may not agree. So what?

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Navelgazingbajan, I totally agree with you . . . the practice is definitely what you make it.

BGIM, I remember reading your post about this topic and feeling thrilled that you found something that works.

Thanks YogaDawg . . . I will be checking out your blog!

YogaforCynics, yes, I've gotten the opportunity to meet more liberal Christians IRL and on the net and I actually have enjoyed being in their presence and enjoyed their spirit and energy. I am totally with you in terms of not letting anyone tell me what I can or cannot do based on their understanding of God.

David Murdoch, the first line of your comment made me chuckle. Is sexuality anti-Christian now too? I'm not sure if you were trying to call me a bigot . . . that I am not not. I tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt but I have had so many not-so-positive experiences with fundamental/conservative Christians, that I have no choice but to be wary of them. To be sure, my mother and father, who I love very much, are conservative Christians. I fell that they are entitled to hold whatever beliefs sit well and resonate in their spirits. I wish sometimes they would afford me the same consideration.

If you've read previous posts on this blog, you'll notice that I don't think judgment is wrong. Judgment is a human tendency. However, I think, we should be working to overcome our initial judgments and act in love, practicing ahimsa in our thoughts and actions which comes from being able to put ourselves in others shoes and realizing the intrinsic value of every human being regardless of their beliefs, reserving the biggest judgments for our own selves. Beliefs basically make us who we are and so people will get up in arms when they feel their beliefs are being criticized. Yet, our beliefs are not all that we are . . . so if we are criticized and others disagree with us, indeed, so what?

Femmeautonome, I am so happy you found this blog and have been reading. And I'm glad you commented as well. i couldn't agree more with all you have written. Thank you.

David Murdoch said...

Femmeautonome,

Criciticism and judgment are the same, but criticism of one's beliefs and judgment of a person who hold those beliefs are two different things.

If bigotry was merely refusal to accept someone's viewpoint, then there wouldn't be something wrong with called a bigot, however, colloquially it is almost understood as being something wrong to be called, which is why I operate under that understanding.

No, she said she disliked christians, but that doesn't mean she necessarily judges them. She may, however, I don't know if she did, and therefore my comments were not stated directly at her in the possibility that this was not her meaning. She may or may not have that kind of judgment, but there are many in the world who write the same sort of paragraph and who would judge christians morally simply because they think their way is right.

It's not exactly a case of love the sinner but hate the sin, which I'm operating under. If I could use an example, suppose a person from another culture came to North American and didn't know that giving people the middle finger was very offensive... the person is very mistaken in his understanding, but that doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the person, because he doesn't realize what he's doing. All of us people in the world do things or think things that are mistakes, but that doesn't mean that there is something wrong with us if we don't realize what we're doing. Similarly I look at eastern religions and consider them to be false and holding evil, but that doesn't mean that the people who follow them necessarily bear any guilt in themselves, since they may not know this, and therefore they ought not be treated as though they did. I have no problem with people treating me as a christian in that same way.

Paedophilia is different, because I don't think that there is a person who rapes a child who doesn't realize that what they are doing is wrong, and therefore the person may be criticized along with the belief or path he chooses.

All throughout the gospels Jesus got angry and admonished people to change, but He still loved even those who sinned against Him who He was angry with and even those who nailed Him to the cross.

I'm not entitled to judge people when I don't really know if they are committing sin, nor is anyone. A mistake and a sin are two different things, and if a mistake is a reasonable possibility to my perspective, then I should not judge. It's not about whether or not people agree with me that I do this, but it's because it's the right thing to do and we shouldn't assume each other's guilt for that which we do not know.

John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.


Chi-Chi: Sexuality is not in itself anti-christian, but there are misuses of sexuality that are and always have been.

It's good that you give people the benefit of the doubt. I was raised in a community that tends to harshly judge christians who held their beliefs were absolute truths, and I am also weary when I begin hearing people speaking along those lines. I don't judge you if you don't judge people simply for that as you seem to state in your last comment.

Judgment is like sexuality; it's not wrong in itself, but only when it is misused. Judging that which one knows to be wrong is what we should do, but we should not judge when we do not know and this world is filled with people like us who will at times judge people falsely for all manner of things. It's not really criticizing my beliefs that I take issue with, but it's when a person judges people for having those beliefs when the judgment is unwarranted that I take issue with because it's wrong. My life is not going to stop on that account, but I am still going to state that it shouldn't be that.

God Bless,

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